From Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, chapter 8, Inner Demons, section on dominance:
The psychologists Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto have proposed that people, to varying degrees, harbor a motive they call social dominance, though a more intuitive term is tribalism: the desire that social groups be organized into a hierarchy, generally with one’s own group dominant over the others.¹ A social dominance orientation, they show, inclines people to a sweeping array of opinions and values, including patriotism, racism, fate, karma, caste, national destiny, militarism, toughness on crime, and defensiveness of existing arrangements of authority and inequality. An orientation away from social dominance, in contrast, inclines people to humanism, socialism, feminism, universal rights, progressivism, and the egalitarian and pacifist themes in the Christian Bible.
¹Social dominance: Pratto et al., 2006; Sidanius & Pratto, 2009.
It interests me what a thorough match that is for me (and, probably, most of you, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog). I dislike all the items in the first list, and favor all the items in the second (except for the Xian bible part). I do dislike social dominance and/or tribalism, and the qualities and “virtues” that apparently go with it.
I think it would be a better world if more people did.
My brother gave me that book a while back. I kind of liked the first part, but then he got to something where I disagreed with him, and I realized the whole thing is just what I call “proof by assertion.” He has his opinions, and whatever agrees with them is right and whatever disagrees with them is just wrong. Because he says so. So I’m always skeptical when I read quotes from him.
Reminds me of what I’m hearing about Dawkins & Co.
But to get to your main point: that first list sounds like the sorts of things that would have come out of Pandora’s box.
As for “the egalitarian and pacifist themes in the Christian Bible” — why should the Fundies be the only ones allowed to cherry-pick from the Bible?
Paul Workman says
I haven’t read this Pinker or the referenced works, so maybe I’m stating the obvious or an idea already dismissed, but it’s always struck me that domination seems to drive most human behavior, and would cover both lists, often in “more X than thou” posturing. So I’d be tempted to define the lists more like “high and low dominance tendencies”.
I may be quibbling over semantics.
I’m skeptical as to how robust the ‘orientation away from social dominance’ is, particularly when individuals are under stress, most people tend to rally round the tribal flag, sooner or later.
I have a recollection that while men tend to organize hierarchically and will allow anyone entry as long as they obey the social order – i.e. properly respect those above them in the heirarchy. Women favor an in/out social dichotomy with little hierarchical structure to their ‘in’ group but a clear delineation between who is and who is NOT part of their crowd.
Are you familiar with that theory? It seems to fit with this passage but I can’t recall now where I might have read about it or how long ago it was.
@2RJW — Right. Even in Ms. Benson’s brief commentary at the bottom, she almost engages in both. 1) Tribalism: “what a thorough match that is for me (and, probably, most of you, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog).” — it’s pretty clear that there’s a certain cultural tribe that reads and comments on FTB/RawStory/Kos/DU sort of sites. And 2) Social Dominance: “I think it would be a better world if more people did” (dislike the same stuff our tribe dislikes)…in other words, we want our (superior) communitarian and supportive and tolerant values to have more social dominance than predatory capitalism and racially privileged media narratives, etc. We’re part of a community of people who strive to make a different narrative prevail in our politics and culture and judicial and economic systems….how is that not a tribe seeking social dominance, at least at the epistemological level?
Why was it not pointed out that all of these things are very strong themes in the Christian Bible and its followers? Anyone with a passing familiarity with that book could I’m sure supply dozens of examples of each.
Brian E says
This reminds recently of an article on the U.S. report on torture. The article quite clearly stated that experts know that torture doesn’t work, so it’s pointless if the aim is to get information. The comments below the line immediately fell into two groups. Those who agreed with the article, and what I’d term authoritarians who I presume didn’t read the article as they basically said ‘well, tortures bad, but we wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work, so it’s not going away. Besides you commie bastards love ISIS!’. It seems the same on global warming, violence against women. There’s a progressive mindset and an authoritarian mindset. Never the twain shall meet?
anbheal, tribalism is as simple as sharing traits with a cohort? I thought it required a bit more than that.
You are missing the obvious. These two quotes are not mutually exclusive.
Torture DOES work. It’s just that when I say “It works”, I do NOT mean “It is an effective way of eliciting useful intelligence from an enemy detainee”. Torture has an entirely different purpose, entirely unrelated to the obtaining of information, and it is extremely effective. Authoritarians are right when they say this. They’re just a bit shifty when it comes to admitting what the purposes actually are. These include but are not limited to:
1. terrorising the captives
2. entertaining those doing the terrorising
3. adjusting the attitudes of those required to stand by while the torture takes place – guards and so on. “The enemy” is dehumanised, and they are made complicit in acts they had previously been taught to abhor. This reinforces their identification with the in-group, and also as a side-benefit terrorises them a little bit too, because they suspect (correctly) that if they step out of line the might suffer the same treatment.
RJW has a good point. When resources are scarcer or there is more chaos, people tend to accept more authoritarianism. When there is more of a middle class and there a fewer conflicts, people have the time and opportunity to demand more equality.
And, anbheal, humanism, socialism, universal rights are issues that oppose tribalism. So, someone who is advocating humanism and universal rights is by definition not tribal and is saying that one person is not better than the other. But it does take work to remind oneself of this. Then again, I don’t think it is bad to look down on people who are against equality and want to keep the hierarchy
John Morales says
Yeah, Christians are well-known to be egalitarian and pacifist.
(Especially those in the USA!)
“…how is that not a tribe seeking social dominance, at least at the epistemological level?”
“An orientation away from social dominance, in contrast, inclines people to humanism, socialism, feminism, universal rights, progressivism,..”
I don’t really understand that claim, history records many individuals who have sought and achieved social dominance and oppressed millions, in order to establish a workers’ paradise or some other political or theocratic utopia.
John Morales says
You really don’t see the difference between persuasion and coercion?
(Only one of those relies on power differentials)
PS I am not part of your “we” or your community, except insofar as I too comment here.
Thanks. This sentence amused me.
Crimson Clupeidae says
I haven’t read that book, but I think Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians does a really good job of both defining the different types and where they fall on the authoritarian spectrum.
It does seem, from my recollection (Now I’m going to have to go back and read it again) that one of things that struck me when reading Altemeyer’s book is actually what Brian E @5 noted: that there were very few ‘middle of the road’ types on the authoritarian spectrum. I think it is like an inverted bell curve.
Chris Walker says
We read “Better Angels” in my book club. Many of us did, anyway. It’s quite lengthy. In general I thought it was quite good. It was fascinating and horrifying to learn of the ways that people entertained themselves in medieval times. I also enjoyed the section on the development of table manners. I had Pinker sign it for me during his most recent book tour. I almost got up the nerve to ask him why he occasionally tweets links to articles by that hack Christina Hoff Summers, but I chickened out in the end.
Ophelia Benson says
Heh – if I ever get the chance I will ask him that, because I’m seriously curious.